If you’re like most people, one of the first things you think of when you imagine drug addiction is cocaine.
And it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise – coke addiction is one of the deadliest, most overpowering substance use disorders today.
And on top of that, experts agree that America’s coke problem is only set to get worse in the coming years. In fact, overdose deaths involving cocaine are actually higher than they’ve been in decades, thanks in part to the continuing opioid epidemic.
It’s never been more important, then, that you know the ins and outs of this dangerous addictive substance. What does it look like? How does it affect the body and the mind? How quickly can you get addicted to it? And what are the dangers of using it today?
Finally, how is a cocaine addiction treated today and how effective is this treatment?
We’ll take a look at all of these questions and more in this complete guide to an addiction to cocaine.
And hopefully, you’ll understand why it’s so critical to stay away from this drug or seek help if you’re already addicted to it.
By far one of the most notorious and well-recognized drugs today, cocaine is a powerful stimulant that is potent, addictive, and potentially deadly.
It comes from the South American coca plant and in most cases is either in the form of a fine white powder or an off-white/pinkish crystallized form known as crack.
In both forms, coke can create a huge burst of energy, an increase in self-confidence, and boosted sociability.
Many people find that this improved self-confidence and increased desire to talk with others lends well to social events. As such, cocaine has been a favorite party drug that can commonly be found at venues like bars, concerts, raves, and many other highly-social events.
Despite the millions of people who abuse cocaine every year, this drug is incredibly dangerous. It is highly toxic by itself, is often cut with other dangerous drugs and fillers, and is commonly abused alongside other drugs like alcohol and opioids – making it even deadlier.
On top of that, cocaine is also highly addictive. And that addictiveness can lead to both a bigger risk of a fatal overdose as well as a crippling addiction that can often end up ruining lives.
It can be abused in a couple of different ways. The most common ones are snorting, injecting, smoking, and ingesting.
In addition to overdose rates involving the drug being higher than ever, cocaine has been in the news quite a bit lately.
One reason is that researchers are working on several new ways of treating coke addiction that may change the field forever.
For example, one study found that by genetically engineering versions of patients’ own skin cells, their bodies could break down cocaine into harmless byproducts before the pleasurable effects ever hit the brain.
This therapy could also help protect individuals from a potentially lethal overdose as well since the cocaine is broken down so quickly.
It’s even been labeled as “a cure for cocaine addiction” by some scientists and news outlets.
However, not all news about cocaine is optimistic. In fact, the bulk of headlines involving the drug actually have to do with lives that have been lost to it, especially within the celebrity community.
A few famous figures that have died as a result of cocaine abuse include:
Cocaine has a long, storied history, all starting with the first cultivation of the coca plant.
According to the History Channel, indigenous people of South America have chewed the coca leaf for centuries because of its exhilarating effects. It was even used in cultural and religious ceremonies.
Once German scientists isolated the compound from the coca leaf in 1860, cocaine was quickly picked up in the medical and health communities. Tonics, wines, and powders containing the compound were advertised as cures for fatigue and promised to restore lost vitality.
Around the turn of the century, medical practitioners began using cocaine as a topical anesthetic, most notably in the for delicate procedures like cataract surgery.
The drug was even endorsed and praised by famous figures like Sigmund Freud and Thomas Edison.
In 1886, John Stith Pemberton founded Coca-Cola – a mixture of sugary syrup and, of course, cocaine.
After finally noticing the addictive nature of the drug, the sale and use of cocaine were outlawed by the Harrison Narcotics Act of 1914. It's been illegal ever since.
Someone under the influence of coke will experience boosted self-confidence, happiness, and even heightened levels of sexuality. These are the feelings that keep people using this dangerous drug.
According to NIDA, some of the characteristics of the cocaine high include:
The two most popular forms of cocaine – powdered coke and the crystallized crack rock – are actually not all that different, despite what many people believe.
Crack, for instance, is widely thought of as a more dangerous drug that is typically abused by lower-class drug users and is highly stigmatized as a result. Cocaine powder, on the other hand, is usually regarded as glamorous, upscale, and relatively safe.
This stigma can lead to all sorts of problems – from lower rates of addiction treatment to disproportionately harsh legal punishments.
In fact, minimum prison sentencing for these two drugs is at a 100-to-1 disparity. Possession of just 5 grams of crack triggers a mandatory 5 years. For cocaine powder, it’s 500 grams.
However, it’s worth noting that these two drugs are quite similar. The main difference involves how quickly it enters the bloodstream. When smoked, the drug enters the bloodstream much quicker and results in a faster, more potent high than when its snorted.
And while it’s true that a faster onset may lead to a greater potential for developing a full-blown addiction, the fact of the matter is that these two drugs are equally powerful. They’re just in two different forms.
Cocaine’s been around for quite some time. And just like a lot of the other major drugs being sold illegally today, it has a number of different street names used by both dealers and users.
There are a couple of benefits to knowing about these street names. The most notable is that you can more easily identify someone who’s been using this drug. And at the same time, it can help you spot the signs of abuse and, eventually, a full-blown addiction.
If you overhear someone you know using these terms, they just might be struggling with a cocaine or crack abuse problem.
For powdered cocaine, some of these street names include:
When it comes to crack cocaine, the street names are a bit different. These include:
The effects of cocaine are quite short-lived, compared to other types of drugs. In fact, those who use it experience a high that only lasts between five and 90 minutes, depending on how it was administered.
The faster the coke gets into the bloodstream, the shorter this high is bound to be. Here’s a quick breakdown of the administration methods along with their onset time and high duration.
Coke and crack cocaine are powerful stimulants. This class of drug tends to speed up natural processes in the body while creating an intense sense of euphoria along the way.
On the body side, heart rate, breathing, body temperature, and blood pressure all spike after using coke. On the brain’s side, cocaine can cause a burst of energy as well as hypersensitivity to sight, sound, and touch along with greater mental alertness.
There are two chemicals in particular that cocaine influences to produce these effects. The first is norepinephrine, more commonly known as adrenaline. This chemical is partially responsible for the burst of energy associated with using cocaine.
More importantly, though, is the way coke interacts with dopamine, the body’s main pleasure chemical. When we experience pleasure, whether it’s from exercising, a good meal, or other activities like sex, that pleasure is caused by the release of dopamine.
Dopamine travels between brain cells to signal other cells to produce a pleasurable chain reaction of events. What cocaine does is it boosts the amount of dopamine released while also preventing the body from re-absorbing it.
As a result, there's more dopamine floating between the cells, and it also sticks around much longer, increasing the likelihood of a pleasurable reaction even more.
For an even more in-depth look at how cocaine affects the body and the mind, have a look at this video below. It takes a much deeper dive into the exact physical and chemical reactions that take place after using, and how they eventually lead to developing a full-blown addiction to the drug.
The pleasurable effects of using coke are obviously intense. And for many, these effects can end up being reason enough to spend enormous amounts of money, dedicate all free time, and even jeopardize the relationships in life that matter most.
But cocaine abuse can cause a host of other negative side effects as well.
According to NIDA, these include:
On top of these detrimental effects, cocaine and crack abuse can also lead to impaired judgment and, in some cases, increased sexuality.
Added to that, many coke users who use the drug intravenously are prone to unsafe needle hygiene. And that can lead to rapid transmission of bloodborne diseases.
Given these qualities in particular, it isn’t any surprise that abusing cocaine massively increases the risk of contracting HIV, more technically known as human immunodeficiency virus.
In fact, as many as one-third of all new HIV cases come from intravenous drug users.
However, there’s more to it than just poor judgment and needle sharing (which is also responsible for a rise in Hepatitis C cases).
In addition to the dangerous practices that often surround coke abuse, this drug is especially dangerous when it comes to contracting HIV because it actually hinders the body’s natural ability to fight off infection.
Plus, it’s even been shown to enhance the HIV gene expression, making it an even more powerful threat.
Someone who has already contracted HIV and takes cocaine is likely to experience a deteriorating condition as well, thanks to the toxic effects of the drug.
As you can see, there’s more to the dangers of cocaine use than just the immediate physical hazards.
If cocaine use continues, and the drug is not stopped, certain long-term effects of cocaine are likely to surface as well.
These long-term effects of using coke might include:
Regardless of how good the high is, these types of risks are too dangerous to continue using cocaine long-term.
One of the deadliest effects of abusing cocaine is the increased risk of overdose.
Part of the danger comes from the toxicity of cocaine itself. Its stimulant properties can cause fatal effects that range from cardiac events to seizures, stroke, and even coma.
Another factor at play here is the fact that cocaine is often cut with so many different substances. Lidocaine, caffeine, laxatives, and creatine are just some of the most common cutting agents used today. But others include highly toxic substances that can have seriously adverse effects on the body and mind.
Coke overdoses are on the rise too. According to the CDC, cocaine overdose deaths rose by an alarming 52.4% in 2016. In 2017 alone, more than 14,500 people are expected to have died from a coke overdose.
Compared to 2010, the year with the lowest cocaine overdose deaths in several decades, this represents a 3.5-fold increase in overdose deaths from this drug according to NIDA.
A major factor in this sharp jump in coke deaths has to do with more of the drug being cut with fentanyl, an opioid up to 50-times more powerful than heroin.
And in fact, as many as 40% of new cocaine overdoses involved this potent opioid.
The first step in treating a coke overdose is identifying the signs.
According to MedlinePlus, the most common symptoms of overdosing on cocaine include:
A cocaine overdose can very easily become fatal. Serious complications like heart problems and seizures can lead to permanent damage or life-threatening conditions. And as such, someone overdosing on coke needs medical help as soon as possible.
If you recognize the signs of a cocaine overdose, call 9-1-1 immediately.
Do not wait for the condition to resolve itself. Do not try to treat an overdose without medical help. And do not try driving the victim to the hospital without contacting emergency services.
The most important factor here is getting help as quickly as possible.
However, there are a number of other steps you can take to help ensure the best outcome. Have a look at this guide to First Aid for Drug Overdoses from CPR Certified for more information.
Cocaine abuse statistics tell us that there are close to 2 million cocaine users in the United States during any given month. Adults who are between the ages of 18 and 25 are at a much higher risk, and 1.9% of Americans in this age group are estimated to have used the drug in the last month.
However, cocaine abuse is much different cocaine addiction, and this fact should not be ignored. It is possible to become addicted to cocaine after your very first use, but that certainly is not the case for everyone who uses it. In general, cocaine abuse refers to the act of using cocaine, even just one time. It does not mean that you are addicted to it.
That’s because abuse is defined as misusing a legal substance or using any illegal one. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), cocaine is listed as a Schedule II drug, which the agency defines as:
drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with a high potential for abuse, with use potentially leading to severe psychological or physical dependence. These drugs are also considered dangerous.
Some other Schedule II drugs include hydrocodone (Vicodin), methamphetamine, methadone, hydromorphone (Dilaudid), meperidine (Demerol), oxycodone (OxyContin), fentanyl, Dexedrine, Adderall, and Ritalin.
And while cocaine does have a medical use as a topical anesthetic, many physicians use other less addictive alternatives.
In the end, using cocaine at all for recreational purposes is considered abuse and is highly illegal.
It’s important to remember that cocaine abuse doesn’t always indicate addiction to coke.
So, since abuse is defined as using this drug recreationally, even once, what constitutes actual addiction?
Well, according to the most prestigious addiction organizations in the country, there are a couple of different definitions of addiction.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) defines addiction as:
a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences. It is considered a brain disease because drugs change the brain; they change its structure and how it works.
According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), addiction is:
a chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory, and related circuitry. Dysfunction of these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations.
And the American Psychiatric Association (APA) defines addiction as:
a complex condition, a brain disease that is manifested by compulsive substance use despite harmful consequence.
Ultimately, these definitions all converge on a couple of important qualities.
First, addiction is an actual, physical brain disease. The outdated view that habitual substance abuse comes from some sort of moral failing is no longer supported by experts in the field. And studies have even shown major physical changes in the brains of addicts that make it near impossible for many to quit on their own.
Second, addiction is characterized by compulsive drug use despite negative consequences. Being unable to stop despite the numerous harmful outcomes of addiction is a defining quality.
Addiction then, isn’t just about abusing cocaine. It’s more about the problematic patterns of behaviors that have spiraled out of control.
What is it about this powerful drug and the high it produces that makes coke so addictive in the first place?
Cocaine’s incredibly high potential for abuse comes from the way it interacts with the brain.
The pleasurable rush of coke, whether it’s snorted or injected, is caused by a flood of dopamine and epinephrine in the brain. The higher the level of dopamine produced, the more pleasurable the experience is.
But beyond the sensation of pleasure itself that this chemical causes is the fact that dopamine plays a big role in motivation and learning. The more dopamine a certain action releases in the brain, the more we naturally want to complete that action in the future. And when that dopamine rush is especially intense as with coke, that motivation can turn into an overwhelming craving.
Over time, the brain of a coke addict starts becoming unable to produce as much dopamine as normal on its own. Natural dopamine-producing activities like eating a delicious meal or having sex just aren’t as effective at releasing dopamine. And eventually, the brain starts craving cocaine uncontrollably since it’s become the only source of pleasure.
Plus, it can make the brain more sensitive to environmental factors like stress too. And this adds up to an even greater need to use again as a coping mechanism.
On top of that, recovering cocaine addicts never seem to fully recover from their addiction. In fact, just a single hit of coke can launch the brain back into stifled dopamine production again. And that, of course, can make a full-blown relapse significantly more likely to occur.
It isn’t any wonder, then, why so many people get hooked on this dangerous drug and can never seem to put it back down on their own.
If there’s one thing that nearly all addicts have in common, it’s that they are in complete denial about their substance abuse problem. As we’ve seen, addiction affects nearly every part of an individual’s life and can even alter the way they think, make decisions, and perceive the world around them.
As NIDA points out, the brain of an addict becomes physically altered over the course of a substance abuse problem. “People with addiction,” it states, “show physical changes in areas of the brain that are critical to judgement, decision-making, learning and memory, and behavior control.”
It isn’t any wonder, then, that so many cocaine addicts and drug users in general are in denial about their addiction. In fact, the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) found that of the 17.7 million American adults that needed but didn’t receive treatment, a whopping 95.5% of them didn’t feel like they had a problem at all.
However, that does not mean that an addict is trapped being hooked on coke forever. Addiction can be overcome. And the first step is spotting the signs of a substance use disorder before things start getting out of hand.
The first step in treating a coke or crack addiction is spotting the signs. And if you know what to look for, it can be easier to do than you think.
Some of the most obvious signs of a coke addiction include:
If you or someone you love is starting to show signs of a cocaine addiction, it may be time to dig a little bit deeper. Are you really addicted? Does your friend or loved one need to seek help?
Luckily, there are plenty of methods for determining whether or not an addiction is actually present. Below are some of the most effective ones available.
A Short Online Quiz – One of the quickest and easiest ways to evaluate whether someone is struggling with an addiction to coke, this 20-question quiz provides a valuable step in the right direction. It can help someone on the fence about the substance abuse begin to acknowledge the signs of their addiction. And on top of that, it can help break through the powerful denial that’s all too common with many addicts.
Using the DSM V – Also known as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th Edition), the DSM V is one of the most comprehensive and trusted catalogues of mental disorders available today. It’s used by practicing psychiatrists and physicians around the world too.
The DSM V lists out 11 diagnostic criteria for what is considered an addiction to cocaine or any other substance. According to NIDA, if an individual has experienced two to three of the criteria in the past 12 months, they are considered to have a "mild" disorder. Four or five criteria qualifies as "moderate," and six or more are considered "severe."
Assessment Tools from NIDA – Collected by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, these self-assessment tools are used by addiction professionals all around the country. And best of all, there are an enormous variety of these tools to choose from.
Some only take a few minutes to complete and consist of just a few simple questions. Others are much more extensive and offer a more comprehensive evaluation of the level of addiction.
But most importantly, all of these assessment tools have been evaluated and endorsed by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, one of the most trusted sources of addiction information and expertise.
Free Phone Assessment – Getting in touch with an addiction professional over the phone offers a couple of important benefits.
First, it gives access to an expert in the field. Assessments using this method, then, are usually the most trustworthy since it’s being conducted by someone qualified to spot the signs.
Second, it allows for a more personalized assessment. Since the assessment takes place over a conversation, people who suspect an addiction are usually free to ask questions, add specific details, and offer their own opinions as well.
And third, this phone call can lead directly to other treatment resources. Maybe it’s getting advice on where to find 12-step meetings. Or perhaps it’s finding out what to start looking for in a professional treatment program. Whatever the resources are, a conversation with an addiction professional can help point you in the right direction.
Over time, an addicts body becomes more tolerant to the effects of cocaine. And in fact, it eventually begins to actually need coke in the bloodstream in order to function normally.
This is physical dependency. And when someone who is physically dependent on cocaine suddenly stops using it, their body will go through a wide array of uncomfortable and painful physical and psychological symptoms.
Nearly all addictive substances cause symptoms of withdrawal when they’re given up. And many times, addicts can’t get clean on their own simply because the intensity of these symptoms force them back to using again – just for some relief.
There’s no denying that cocaine withdrawal symptoms can be very strong if you’re addicted to this powerful drug. Some common symptoms of coke withdrawal are:
Cocaine is a drug that should never be stopped abruptly. Doing so can result in a cocaine binge and even an overdose.
The direct symptoms of withdrawal from coke aren’t the only things to consider either. In fact, one of the biggest dangers of detoxifying from cocaine improperly comes from the various complications that can result from the process.
And without medical oversight during detox, these complications can actually be life-threatening.
Some of the most common complications of withdrawal include:
The most intense symptoms of cocaine withdrawal typically take around 7 to 10 days to subside. This will, of course, vary based on a number of factors like the severity of the addiction as well as treatment during the detoxification process.
However, some coke and crack users will experience what’s known as Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome, also known as PAWS. This condition is marked by an especially long duration of withdrawal symptoms, some of which can end up lasting for months or even years.
These symptoms won’t always be the same as those experienced during the more intense first stages of withdrawal. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), some of the most common symptoms include:
With proper treatment and support, these symptoms can be much more manageable over time.
Addiction doesn’t just go away on its own. A cocaine addict doesn’t just get tired of using one day. It takes a concerted effort to quit along with hard work, dedication, and a whole lot of support along the way.
But what kinds of methods are out there for quitting?
In general, there are 3 different approaches to cocaine recovery being used today: stopping on your own, 12-step meetings, and getting professional treatment.
Quitting Alone – Many addicts attempt quitting on their own before any other method. They reason to themselves that their substance abuse problem isn’t actually that bad, that they just need to hunker down for a weekend and get clean.
And while it’s true that some people can kick their addiction on their own, the vast majority of users are going to end up relapsing time and time again using this method.
On top of that, home detox can actually end up being deadly when done incorrectly. And that ultimately leads most addiction professionals to advise against this type of treatment method.
12-Step Groups – 12-step meetings like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) are definitely a step up from quitting by yourself. These support groups offer strategies and tools for coping with cravings as well as motivation for kicking cocaine for good.
On top of that, these groups also come with a built-in support network – a vital part of any recovery effort.
However, 12-step groups on their own are often not enough to facilitate a full recovery. And in fact, the very best use of 12-step groups is by attending meetings both during and after professional treatment.
Professional Treatment – For the absolute best chances of recovery and the lowest risk of relapsing, there’s professional treatment. These programs are well-acquainted with the cycle of addiction and offer the very best strategies for helping break free from it.
Some professional treatment programs also help get to the heart of addiction rather than just trying to treat the outcomes.
Why did you become addicted in the first place? What kinds of problems are causing you to use drugs to self-medicate? These are all important questions to address during treatment and can help build a healthier foundation to build your new life upon.
Finding the right program to meet your specific needs can be tough. And knowing what to ask when trying to decide on a facility can mean the difference between a clean and full recovery or a devastating relapse down the line.
One of the most important aspects of choosing a cocaine addiction center is knowing what kind of programs the facility offers. The four main types of programs include detoxification, inpatient rehab, outpatient rehab, and intensive outpatient programs (IOPs).
Medical Detoxification – Getting through withdrawals can be a grueling process, especially when it comes to the withdrawals of cocaine. And in many cases, if this stage of recovery isn’t handled properly, it can lead to serious health complications as well as a much higher risk of relapsing.
Medial detox is an expert-guided progression through coke withdrawal. It includes medical monitoring to prevent and treat health concerns that may result, providing medications and other therapies to reduce the intensity and duration of withdrawals, and professional advice to help maintain sobriety.
However, it should be noted that detox is only the very first step. And according to NIDA, medical detoxification “by itself does little to change long-term drug use.”
Inpatient Rehabilitation – Rehabilitation comes after detox, and inpatient treatment is widely considered to be the "gold standard" when it comes to recovery. This type of program requires patients to stay on the campus at all times and provides a much more focused approach to healing.
This program usually lasts for around one month. In most cases, patients won’t be able to attend school or a job during this time.
Outpatient Rehabilitation – An outpatient program provides a bit more flexibility than inpatient. Recovering cocaine addicts in this type of program attend several treatment sessions a week, usually taking place in the evening. Before and after these sessions, patients are free to live their daily lives and may attend school, work, and family functions.
However, the added flexibility comes with a tradeoff. With more freedom comes a higher likelihood of relapsing and a less-focused approach to treatment. As a result, outpatient programs may not be right for everyone.
These programs typically last about 3 months.
Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOPs) – An IOP offers a middle ground between inpatient and outpatient programs. This type of treatment method requires attendance at evening sessions (like outpatient), but these sessions usually last longer and occur more frequently. This allows for a more focused form of recovery (like inpatient).
These programs also usually last for about 3 months like outpatient programs.
The best cocaine addiction facilities will offer a variety of treatment options and modalities to help attack substance abuse from all sides. After all, not every form of treatment will work for every patient. And one of the best things to look for in a program is a wealth of recovery approaches.
Below are some of the most effective forms of treatment you may encounter during recovery.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – Also known as CBT, cognitive behavioral therapy helps patients anticipate craving triggers, assess high-risk situations, and deploy proven strategies for controlling behavior.
CBT has been found to be effective in treating a variety of addictions including cocaine addiction, alcoholism, and meth addiction.
Individual Therapy – The overwhelming majority of habitual substance abusers have experienced more trauma in their lives than most people. In fact, research has shown that adverse childhood events (ACEs) have a huge role in later life dysfunction. People with high ACEs scores are two to four times more likely to use drugs.
Individual therapy helps you get to the root of your addiction and help you zero in on the trauma that’s all too often behind it. Whether it’s an undiagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder, emotional abuse from the past, or another co-occurring disorder like anxiety or depression, individual therapy is bound to help.
Family Counseling – Having a family member that’s struggling with addiction can be devastating. Not only does it typically foster resentment and even abuse within the family dynamic, but it can also fuel codependency – a toxic relationship that can lead to serious dysfunction.
Family counseling programs can help address these problems and make it even easier to transition back into normal life after the recovery program is over. Plus, it can help strengthen your support network even further, thereby increasing the chances of a full recovery.
Group Therapy – What most people think of when they imagine addiction treatment, group therapy allows recovering addicts to tell their story and learn from the successes and downfalls of others. Group therapy can also help you build a relapse prevention plan involving sponsors.
Holistic Therapy – Holistic therapy approaches addiction by treating the body as a whole. This can include nutrition-rich meal plans, exercise regimens for boosting natural endorphins, and mindfulness meditation classes to help improve stress management.
Other Therapies – Other therapies that might be included in rehabilitation may include excursion therapies that involve relatively intense nature hikes, leadership camps to improve self-image, and spiritual journeys to foster a sense of purpose.
When you suffer from an addiction to a drug like cocaine, it’s normal to feel as though you’re going to be suffering from it forever. You may have heard that cocaine is a really difficult addiction to overcome, or perhaps you’ve tried to stop using it on your own, but you weren’t able to be successful. So many others have had the same experience. However, there are also those who have been able to stop using cocaine very successfully with the right kind of support.
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